Greeks call strike over austerity and bailout reforms

Published: December 18, 2017 - 12:05

Greeks walked off the job in a nationwide strike on December 14, to protest austerity measures and reforms the leftist-led government has agreed with the country’s creditors in exchange for bailout loans.

Domestic flights and Athens transport were disrupted, ships remained docked for 24 hours and some public services shut as part of the strike organised by Greece’s largest labour unions, private sector union GSEE and its public sector counterpart ADEDY.

GSEE and ADEDY have staged repeated strikes since the first bailout in 2010. But participation in protests has been low in recent years due to inertia and austerity fatigue after three rescue packages and five snap elections in eight years.

Those observing the strike were expected to march to parliament on December 14, where lawmakers are debating the 2018 budget. The country’s fiscal goals have been approved by its European Union lenders and the International Monetary Fund.

As part of its latest bailout review, the government has agreed to cut spending further, to reduce pensions benefits, complete the evaluation of public sector staff, tighten the rules for unions to call a strike, and sell coal-fired power stations.

The state had adopted ‘ruthless dead end policies which were strangling the Greek people’, unions said in a statement.

Hundreds of thousands of Greeks have lost their jobs during the crisis and a deep recession induced by austerity. Pensioners have seen their income slashed by more than 30 percent.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was catapulted to power in 2015 on promises to end austerity. He later signed up to a new bailout and was re-elected pledging to protect the poor and pensioners as well as workers’ wages and rights.

That bailout ends in August and Tsipras, whose term ends in 2019 and his party’s popularity is sliding in opinion polls, wants to attempt “a clean exit”, without additional financial aid from the lenders that usually comes with more conditions.